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National Caregivers Month: What Helps VA Family Caregivers?

Air Force veteran Frank Marvin suffers from dementia, and his wife, Shirley, says respite services can mean a lot to family caregivers like her. Courtesy: Shirley Marvin
Air Force veteran Frank Marvin suffers from dementia, and his wife, Shirley, says respite services can mean a lot to family caregivers like her. Courtesy: Shirley Marvin
November 16, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. - November is National Family Caregiver Month, and advocates for seniors in the state say they plan to ask the General Assembly to increase funding for respite services to give caregivers a break.

Respite care means a lot to folks such as Shirley Marvin, whose husband, Frank, suffers from dementia. She loves her spouse, but said the nonstop care and vigilance that is required can be exhausting. She said she gets a lot from support groups and anything that helps share the load.

"I do, I attend them regularly, and I do find that very helpful," she said, "but it's a long, slow, very all-consuming journey."

According to AARP Virginia, the overwhelming portion of caregivers are unpaid family members - which, as the population ages, will become a larger issue. Respite services can be a way to keep people with dementia and other chronic conditions at home and closer to loved ones longer by giving those loved ones an occasional much-needed break.

Frank Marvin is an Air Force veteran, and the couple lived in Arlington most of their lives. Shirley Marvin said he started showing signs of dementia years ago. It worsened very gradually until he was moved into a residential facility near Reston.

"Probably the hardest thing I ever had to do was to decide to place him," she said. "I don't want to say the 'burden,' but the totality of the care really is on the spouse."

She said he connects with the other vets who live there, and she likes to see that. For Veterans Day, the facility arranged a visit by the Rolling Thunder veterans' motorcycle club. Shirley Marvin said that went well, but it's still emotionally tough to see her husband slipping away.

"Sometimes, he introduces me as his wife and he'll use my name," she said. "Other times he'll say, 'We really have to go see Shirley.' You never kind of know what's going on, and that's very hard."

When he connects, she said, those are the good days. She said it helps when other folks can help him make those connections, and it makes it a little easier on her.

More information is online at aarp.org.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA